Longtime Huntington Town Clerk Jo-Ann Raia is retiring at the end of the year. She spoke to Newsday about establishing the town's official archives, the challenges of maintaining records for hundreds of thousands of Huntingtonians, and what's next as her son Andrew Raia, who was elected to succeed her, takes over Jan. 1. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Q: You were first elected (as town clerk) in 1981 ... Over the years, did you ever consider running for other elected office?
A: No, but I had been coaxed and coaxed to run for supervisor. I had some very good friends ... who said, you know, you could stay town clerk forever. Supervisor, why do you need that? You know, everybody's pulling you from one end to the other, right? So ... I turned that down. Because I really I love this job. It's been a wonderful part of my life.
Q: What has been some of your favorite parts of running the town clerk's office?
A: It's been setting up the archives ... (when the current Town Hall opened in 1979) every department that collected all their records from the storage house brought it down here and dumped it on the floor ... and if someone from the department needed a document they would come down, and they'd look for it and the boxes would fall over and they just left the papers on the floor.
Q: So all the residents, every piece of paperwork they fill out related to their life in the town with birth, death, marriage, licenses, permits, applications, they all go through your office. (Now the town records center has 7,000 or so boxes of organized paperwork).
A: The way we say it is, I bring you into this world and I help you exit — because of the death certificate.
Q: As the town grows and changes, what are you looking forward to seeing happen here?
A: I'd like it to come back to the old, quaint way it was. As a young child, I spent my summers out here (with family in Greenlawn) ... They had a lot of property and they leased it to a farmer who brought his cows there to graze. So I used to walk among the cows and bring in the cow flops on my feet to the dismay of my cousin's wife, and I used to get the eggs from the chickens ... I was a city girl (from Brooklyn) and it gave me an opportunity to see what the country was like ... I don't think there's a balance anymore. You know, it used to be you'd go down Main Street and you'd see there was a store and maybe there were two floors above with apartments, and you still just saw two windows. And they were probably small apartments ... and they survived. Because we did have ample parking. But now it's going to look like blacktop city.
Q: When is your last day?
A: My last day I get paid is December 31. Chances are, I'll still be there to clean out the office. Andrew just said to people that he's giving me three months to clean out my office. After that he's getting security to escort me out.
The Huntington Town clerk's archives feature:
- 1,295 linear feet of permanent records documenting the town's history
- manuscript collection that includes 200 maps and drawings
- historical items from the Revolutionary War-era, such as oaths of loyalty and war claims